The latest carbon worry: imports

There\’s both less and more to this than you might think.

Cuts in carbon emissions by developed countries since 1990 have been cancelled out three times over by increases in imported goods from developing countries such as China, according to the most comprehensive global figures ever compiled.

Previous studies have shown the significance of \”outsourced\” emissions for specific countries, but the latest research, published on Monday, provides the first global view of how international trade altered national carbon footprints during the period of the Kyoto protocol.

Under the protocol, emissions released during production of goods are assigned to the country where production takes place, rather than where goods are consumed.

Campaigners say this allows rich countries unfairly to claim they are reducing or stabilising their emissions when they may be simply sending them offshore – relying increasingly on goods imported from emerging economies that do not have binding emissions targets under Kyoto.

The less is that the numbers aren\’t quite as bad as they\’re made out to be. The original abstract is here:

We find that the emissions from the production of traded goods and services have increased from 4.3 Gt CO2 in 1990 (20% of global emissions) to 7.8 Gt CO2 in 2008 (26%).

I\’m assuming that when they say \”traded\” they mean internationally traded. And when we look at what the growth in world trade has been (just by eyeballing I\’ll say it\’s 6% pa, not accurate but good enough here) and we run it through a compound interest calculator (starting point 4.3, 18 years, 6% interest,) we get the end result of 12.27 Gt CO2.

As opposed to our actual outcome of 7.8.

So, yes, emissions with respect to trade are increasing. But (and I admit this calculation is very crude indeed) the carbon intensity of trade is clearly falling. Emissions per unit of trade are falling, even if total emissions are rising because trade is growing so quickly.

One possible interpretation of this is that far from simply offshoring emissions, what is in fact happening is that production is moving to places where we are more emissions efficient. Which, if true, would be a very good thing indeed.

In fact, that\’s rather really the point of trade, to get the things that we want with the consumption of fewer resources in that getting.

The much more to it is that such information will be used by those who desire to strangle trade anyway. You know, the green (and Green) idiots who would rather we all paid a fortune for crap produced next door to us (because it\’s socially so much more rewarding to buy from the little man down the road, don\’tcherno) rather than from people who partake in the global division and specialisation of labour.

And thus they will use these carbon figures to impose trade barriers: there\’s already a lot of talk about having carbon tariffs.

And that would be very silly indeed if my interpretation of the above figures is correct. If trade leads to a fall in carbon intensity of production, as it seems to (to take the obvious example, growing pinapples in Central America certainly has lower emissions than trying to grow them in Kew Gardens, to tkae some less obvious, tomatoes from Spain are lower emission than UK grown, lamb from New Zealand lower than Welsh), then actually we don\’t in fact want to reduce the trade that leads to such reductions in carbon intensity.

Far from it, we\’d like to increase it. That would mean that we can have a higher standard of living for whatever level of carbon emissions is \”allowable\”: because we\’re getting more bang for the buck of each emission.

Unfortunately, that ain\’t the way it\’s gonna play out, is it? The cretins will use this as proof that we must reduce trade.

1 thought on “The latest carbon worry: imports”

  1. The figures are apparently for internationally traded “goods and services”.

    I suspect what’s happened is that international services have rocketed since 1990 (all those Indian call centres and outsourcing).

    And I suspect that international services are much less carbon intensive than international trade in goods (since services don’t need much production or shipping).

    So as international services become more important, the average carbon intensity of international trade drops.

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